This is my final copy of my Inquiry Paper:
Working Mothers: Unwieldy Undertaking or Feasible Potentiality?
In our current society numerous women are successful lawyers, judges, doctors, veterinarians, ministers, police officers, teachers, mechanics, insurance salesman, engineers, and business women all attacking the corporate world. Current data from the US Department of Labor shows that approximately fifty-seven percent of women, twenty years or older are employed compared to seventy percent of men. While many factors need to be considered when analyzing this data, such close percentages suggest that many women today are indeed working.
Women have not always had the freedom to possess any job of their choosing, but in our current society it is a possibility for women to obtain their job of choice. Although it is feasible for women to obtain jobs such as these, we are still in a process of struggle to break rigid models and conceptions of what society accepts in relation to women’s roles. Rigid models and expectations of women still in some ways make it difficult for women to acquire and maintain careers. There is a long history of events that has made it possible for the establishment and expansion of women’s rights, as they continue to strive for equality. Although many women today may theoretically have more choices regarding how they will comprise their lives, women still face many obstacles that have been present for centuries. Rigid age old conceptions enforced by society place certain expectations on women that unfortunately have not evolved with the changing roles of women. A major change in family dynamics, many women now have careers as well as families.
With this change in family dynamics, the question now is can women affectively balance both a career and a family? Since women’s working outside of the home changes the composition and roles within a family, how will family dynamics change to accommodate this? What are the advantages and disadvantages of this change in many families? Will the quality of care we give our children change in environments where mothers work and even where both spouses work? Why did this change occur? To answer why more women are working in this century then in past history, it will be helpful to analyze the history of women’s roles in the United States and how these roles have evolved.
Changes for women began with the beginning of the Women’s movement, first started in 1848 at the Seneca Falls Women’s Rights Convention with Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Anthony and Stanton launched the movement, demanding suffrage and an assortment of other liberties. From this point feminism and the National Women’s Party, first organized in 1916, began to campaign for an Equal Rights Amendment. In 1920, women won suffrage and feminists were encouraged by the progress they appeared to be making. World War II helped the feminist cause by allowing women to fill many jobs that men typically would have occupied if they were not currently fighting in the war (Faludi 50). As WWII came to a close Susan Faludi, author of one of the most noted feminist novels in recent years, notes one of the first of many “backlashes” in the American Feminist Movement.
Susan Faludi in her novel Backlash defines a “Backlash” or “an attempt to retract the handful of small and hard-won victories that the feminist movement has managed to win for women” (xviii). Unfortunately after the war, there was such a “backlash” as industry, men, and the media forced women to give up many of the jobs and progress they had made during the war. It was claimed that independent women has “gotten out of hand during the war” and essentially their activities needed to be curtailed (Faludi 50). In the 1940’s strong women as cultural icons became popular, such as the infamous “Wonder Woman” (Faludi 50). The 1950’s consisted of another “backlash” in which women were said to be denoted to “poorly paid secretaries” ( Faludi 54). The 1960’s and 1970’s consisted very similarly as the previous two decades and Faludi suggests that “backlashes” continue to occur usually after all advancements in the feminist movement. “Backlashes,” according to Susan Faludi are triggered by the awareness that women are making progress in the feminist quest for equality (xix).
With the given history of women’s struggle for equality, according to Faludi women currently “want the freedom to define themselves in the way that they choose” (xxiii). In the past, the struggle to obtain this freedom has been complicated by: culture, men, and the media. Today women are still being held back by many of these same influences that restricted women in the past. This history of being held back by various factions is the primary reason women are still finding it difficult to balance a family and a career. Society has not changed the rigid expectations placed on mothers even though the role that men and women possess within families has changed.
Thus some of the changes in family dynamics can be explained by the Women’s Rights Movement and the feminist community’s effort to obtain women’s equality. By seeing the affect influences such as our culture, the media and men have placed on women’s equality in the past, one can also obtain a good idea of the influences these dimensions currently have on women.
Given that the choices women possess are greatly impacted by the affect society is influenced by men, the media, and our culture, it is important to discuss men’s role in the history of women’s rights and in the present. A study conducted in the 1980’s concerning American male attitudes of women demanding independence and equality, found that only five to ten percent of the men surveyed actually supported this request (Faludi 59). Male opinions concerning the equality of women in the workplace are mainly negative. The Yankelovich Monitor survey that has polled social attitudes shows that for the past two decades there has been a fairly consistent definition of what men claim represents their masculinity. The definition of masculinity has been and appears to still be being a “good provider for his family” (Faludi 65). With this definition, one can understand men’s opposition to women’s threatening introduction into the workplace. As society has placed the expectation of women raising children, men also have an expectation to be the “breadwinner,” the one to provide food for his family (Faludi 65). Men feel threatened and are confused about how to allow women to enter the workplace when in the past the workplace defined who they were and their contributions to their families. This conflict between men and women is one of the main causes for past obstacles in the workplace and continues to be a factor inhibiting women’s advancement.
With the past providing many obstacles for women in the workplace, it is interesting to look at society’s perceptions of working mothers. Betty Holcomb, author of Not Guilty is declared by Familyeducation.com as having “one of the most persuasive argumentation in support of working mothers,” assures that studies show there are no significant differences in child development between the children of working moms and those of at-home moms. Halcomb fully explores the many negative critiques expressed concerning working mothers over the past two decades and shows the great variability in the responses. It is apparent in the 1990’s that public opinion fluctuated greatly based on the way in which the media currently published opinions. New York Women’s magazine in 1991 published an article entitled “Trophy Kids: Children of the Rich and Busy” in which they compared children of professional women with victims of domestic violence (Halcomb 20). Halcomb mentions that in Newsweek’s May 1997 issue asserts that working parents are “cheating their kids by not giving them enough love and attention” (21). These are just several of the many references Halcomb mentions that raise extreme claims concerning the affects working mothers have on their families. The media exploits experts’ claims to the extent that the general public is dramatically influenced by the current trendy study or theory released.
As can be seen, the media has a powerful effect on influencing society and specifically way working women are viewed. Media coverage is more expansive then ever and television shows, newspapers, magazines, movies, and books all promote views and ideas that can dramatically affect society’s opinions at a given time. Faludi as well as Holcomb assert this repeatedly with countless examples of media giving false information and thus misleading vast groups of people. Faludi discusses an ideal woman that centers on the media portrayal of Victoria’s Secret catalogs, Miss America pageants, and Clairol hair care products (56). The television show Desperate Housewives currently depicts women mostly dependent on their husbands, devoid of any real ambition, and seemingly glamorous, as an ideal which women should strive for. Television shows such as this one, as frivolous and entertaining as they may seem, influence society’s perceptions concerning women’s role in society. In this way the media in many cases hinders feminist advancements and in turn hinders the conception of women being able to adequately balance a career and family.
Although there appears to be overwhelming negativity concerning working mothers, there are media groups that are supporters. The American Psychological Association recommends that families with working mothers “may lead to positive outcomes for children including academic achievement and fewer behavior problems.” The APA also supports that there are indeed benefits for adults whose mothers were employed while growing up: “Young men and women who grew up with a mother employed outside the home have more positive attitudes toward families and are more likely to believe that husbands and wives share equal responsibility for household work.” Finally the APA states that “combining work and family roles can contribute to the well-being of women” through “parents developing interpersonal skills through interactions with their children that they can apply to their work roles” and the opposite as well.
While the ability to have careers is sometimes a choice women are fortunate enough to make, often because of economic reasons, women are forced to work to provide for themselves or their families. Struggling to provide for themselves and their families, these women not only work, but have the added pressure of having to make enough money to support their families. While this economic reality is extremely common, there are organizations present to help advise women having difficulties working while raising a family. “9 to 5,” the National Association for Working Women is such a group that’s campaign is to “win family-friendly policies for low wage women.” They have produced many resources to help working women and even have a “job survival hotline.”
Although there have been studies recently conducted that show benefits to both working mothers and their children, there is also evidence which shows detrimental affects on children and families of working mothers. The CWA or the Concerned Women for America reports that the Beverly LaHaye Institute claims that more than “thirty hours of childcare a week can result in a child becoming aggressive, defiant, and disobedient.” The quality of healthcare and the economic background of the children do not appear to affect the outcome. The study referenced also says that “children of mothers who go back to work full time while their children are infants have poorer mental and verbal development” then stay at-home mothers.
The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Study of Human Child Care also confirms that children need the daily presence of their mother and that when deprived of this, infants fail to develop a secure attachment to their mother, which is a necessity to a child’s development. When three year olds from an average home environment and average child care whose mother did not work by the ninth month of the child’s birth, scored in the fiftieth percentile on the Bracken School Readiness test. Children in similar settings whose mothers were employed by the ninth month of their birth scored in the forty-forth percentile.
Given the various advantages and disadvantages concerning working mothers, women must weigh the various arguments carefully and make a decision they are comfortable with accepting. Many magazines, online resources, books, and studies advise mothers on how to balance work and family if they indeed decide to pursue a career. A family oriented website, familyeducation.com, advises that “every mother has options” and that there is always at least small adjustments that can be made to change one’s situation. Countless organizations exist that offer information, tips, and support for working women as well as stay at-home moms. Several examples include: National Federation of Business and Professional Women, National Association of Working Women, and the National Association for Female Executives. Companies such as Working Mother magazine are popular because it caters a bit more to working women.
With all of the advantages and disadvantages facing working women it is important to remember that sole responsibility regarding this change in society cannot be placed solely on mothers. If married, husbands should be sharing the weight of this change as well. It needs to be the role of society, media, and women to compensate for changes in women’s roles because they are part of the controversy. Working mothers cannot be expected to work full time and manage all of the household duties as well when men are only expected to work full time. With women adding responsibilities to their lives, some sort of compensation needs to take place to equal out the shift in responsibilities. A journal that explores the roles of both men and women claims that the reality is that “wives and mothers still spend more time on household tasks even when both parents are employed full time” (Etaugh 5). To allow women to adequately work and raise their families, family dynamics need to change to compensate for shifts in responsibilities. Two experts in social policy further support this need for compensation, by stating that the working mother and wife is “left to her devices to cope as wage or salary earner and unpaid house worker” (Levitan and Belous 27).
With all of the numerous groups involved in this issue, it is difficult to determine a clear solution as to what women, men, the media, and society should do to solve such a complicated issue. Some women are forced to work due to economic reasons; some want to work for personal reasons, and others would rather remain at home with their children. Some women do not even want children and may not even decide to work. All of these options are available to women, but are not necessarily easy to obtain given the influences our culture places on society.
After weighing all of the research and information received, I still have difficulty laying out the correct solution. I suggest that women need to be able to do what makes them feel satisfied and content with their lives. Women should place their happiness and well being before any other considerations. Men have done this since the beginning of history and have managed to lead satisfying lives. I believe that women who want to work and raise a family should be able to. Women have catered to men for many years and it is time that men help balance things out by considering the needs of women through compromises. As stated before, the media needs to adequately represent women as they have with men for centuries. Such changes are of course difficult and will take a great deal of time to correct. Women ultimately want to define themselves in the way that pleases them. In order for this to occur, men, the media, and our culture will have to evolve into a place where women and men are truly equal.